Tenth Pick Tournament Round One: Austin Rivers vs. Dion Waiters

Published: June 6, 2012

A battle of the scoring combo guards ensues as Michael McNamara and Joe Gerrity choose sides.

Austin Rivers

(By Michael McNamara)

Before I start gushing about the guy I have said would be the perfect fit with Anthony Davis for months now, let me first address his competitor in this first round. I’ve got nothing against Dion Waiter, but apparently one of the most successful college coaches of the last 25 years does. A quote from his OWN coach Jim Boeheim with regard to the problems the two men had last year (per the NY Times):

He (Walters) was 100 percent wrong. He played no defense last year. Not some. None

This is a guy who coached Carmelo Anthony and never complained about his defensive effort- just for a little perspective. You think Monty is going to keep this kid on the court long enough for him to make up for it on the offensive end? Anybody remember Marcus Thornton?

But that is enough about Dion Waiters, who honestly should just be honored to make this tournament. I want to talk about Austin Rivers and all the things that he can bring to a team. First, let’s take a look at his pedigree. We all know he is the son of one of the top three coaches in the NBA, but not many people realize that Rivers was the consensus number one player in his class until Davis shot up 8 inches overnight. In fact, I hold firm to the belief that the high expecatations that come with being a coaches son and top recruit is why people hold him to standards that are simply unfair.

Rivers numbers are elite for a freshman, yet people are seemingly measuring him against three and four year guys who had less impressive freshman seasons than Rivers had. If we’re talking about the most NBA-ready guy we can get at ten, I will admit there are some that are better for the 2012-13 season, but I wasn’t under the impression that we were trying to win a title next year. I thought we were all on board with a slow build that would yield the best results long term.

My personal philosophy in the draft is that you target guys that have qualities that are rare in the league. Rivers basketball IQ and confidence to take the big shots are elite, while Waiters strikes me as the Julian Wright of shooting guards. A lot of things he does well, but where is his ELITE category? Monty said it best when talking about Rivers control of the game. (Starts at 2:50)

He’s got a really good command of the ball. A lot of guys can handle the ball, but they don’t have command. He has command of the ball…. you’re not going to be able get him from doing what he wants with the ball.

There is no prospect in this year’s draft that has the raw talent that Rivers has with the ball in his hands– and that takes some time to learn how to harness and control. Remember Manu Ginobli his first couple of seasons in San Antonio and how he drove Pop crazy? Rivers and Monty might go through those ups and downs in the first season or two, but I have confidence in Monty to teach Rivers the difference between taking good chances and taking bad chances.

Same goes for the defensive end where Rivers is a gambler, and that is the reason why I would be hesitant to grab Rivers at ten if Davis wasn’t the Hornets first pick. But, again, I go back to San Antonio and show that guys like Parker and Ginobli thrived in spite of their limitations thanks to the fact that they were paired with Duncan. Same goes here for Rivers, who also has the ability to cover the lesser of the two backcourt opponents when paired with Eric Gordon.

For those skeptical about Rivers, try to step back and view him without the overwhelming expectations. A freshman guard who went to the most successful school of the last 25 years and had the offense run through him despite only being 19 years old. He got better as the year went on, averaging over 18 PPG in his last full month, shooting 45% from the field and 41% from three. He got to the line 6.5 times a game (though he does need to hit those more consistantly) and he actually pulled down 4.5 rebounds per game down the stretch.

Does he have weaknesses? Sure. All these guys who could go ten do, otherwise they would be going two or three. But what you have to ask yourself is whether their weaknesses can be covered up or eliminated with either good coaching or by the abilities of another player- and the answer here is clearly yes. And I will close with this. Check out this video and what my opponent has to say when discussing the type of player the Hornets can get at ten. Did he say, “Dion Waiters.” No, no, I don’t think he did. Sounded kinda like Austin Rivers.

Case Closed.

Dion Waiters

(By Joe Gerrity)

If you want to talk about what Jim Boeheim has to say about his own player, let’s at least clarify what it is that he really said—that he didn’t play defense in 2010-2011. Not that he couldn’t or wouldn’t, just that he didn’t.

There’s no disputing that during Dion Waiters first year in college he struggled. By his own admission he was immature and unprepared for the challenges both on and off the court.

What Michael fails to recognize is how Waiters responded. Hardships often serve as a wake-up call, prompting people to decide what really matters, and allowing them to become more clear about their values and career aspirations. Taking a look at the evidence, it’s hard to see Waiter’s struggles as anything but a positive factor in his development.

He didn’t run from his college or his coach. He didn’t blame others indefinitely. He took a good look in the mirror, had some obviously worthwhile conversations with his mother, and took deliberate and calculated steps in the right direction. This is not a guy who runs away from a challenge, he’s one who tackles it head on. I think ESPN Draft Expert Chad Ford (who by the way ranks Waiters at #8 and Rivers at #17 on his big board) says it best–

Waiters came back in the best shape of his career. He embraced his role as the team’s sixth man. He showed off point guard skills that scouts didn’t know he had. He was Syracuse’s best player. Coach Boeheim praised him all year.

Waiter’s said of his own transformation, “I came to Syracuse a boy, I left as a man.”

Defensively Waiters was by far the best back court defender on one of the top defensive teams that Syracuse has fielded in the past decade. While the numbers from this incredibly detailed piece on Syracuse’s defense are a bit dated, you can see that Waiters was far and away the most effective of the guards.

Analyst Luke Winn, who at the time spent 25 hours watching Syracuse defense, remarked “Waiters is the team leader, creating a turnover on 5.8 percent of his possessions played, and on an amazing 38.8 percent of the possessions in which he directly engages.” At that same point in the year opponents were shooting just 33 percent on shots against him.

Austin Rivers is labeled as a gambling defender by many, including my esteemed opposition. The problem is, he’s a crappy gambler (one steal every 34 minutes). Waiters finished the year a steal percentage that nearly tripled that of Rivers (4.6 to 1.7). Not only that, but Rivers does little else well. Of Draft Express’s 13 paragraphs on Rivers, one is about defense. It starts off “On the defensive end, Rivers was not an impact player.” It doesn’t get any better from there. I’ll mention that Waiters blocked 12 times as may shots as Rivers last year, not to show that Waiters is a great blocker, but just so you realize how limited Austin’s defensive game is.

If you’re looking for a defender who gets steals once in a blue moon, by all means go with Rivers. But, if you’re looking for a defender who was among the best in college at getting steals, and breaks out in transition for easy buckets, and plays solid on-ball defense as well, his name is Dion Waiters.

This is getting offensive. We might as well go there…

There’s a reason I don’t care too much what Monty Williams has to say about Austin’s offensive game– Monty is close personal friends with the Rivers family and knows Austin so well that he feels comfortable joking about Austin’s sister’s superior athleticism. Honestly after seeing Monty’s words used I was surprised I didn’t see McNamara throw in some glowing reviews of Austin by his father, Doc Rivers.

The bit about Austin being an elite ego/big shot chucker doesn’t even sound nice in theory. I’d rather have a guy who isn’t already known as having bad shot selection taking critical shots. The comment about him having an elite basketball IQ is kind of odd as well. He doesn’t have a left hand, which is something his supposedly high basketball IQ should have had his body working on long ago. His sick crossover is rendered less effective by his inability to finish consistently with his left hand. He sure can talk the talk in press conferences, but the stats seem to indicate that he might be a better coach than player. Let’s take a look.

College PER: Waiters 26.1, Rivers 16.8

Usage Rate: Waiters 25.5, Rivers 24.1

Points per 40: Waiters 21.0, Rivers 18.7

Offensive Rating: Waiters 115.9, Rivers 104.7

Free Throw Percentage: Waiters 72.9, Rivers 65.8

Effective Field Goal Percentage: Waiters 53.3, Rivers 50.4

True Shooting Percentage: Waiters 56.5, Rivers 53.8

Assist Percentage: Waiters 21.2, Rivers 12.9

Assist/TO ratio: Waiters 1.9:1, Rivers 0.9:1

Age: Waiters is 8 months older than Rivers

As for my talk of taking Rivers the other day on Fox 8, I’ve always reserved the right to change my mind. Recently much of my research about who we should be looking at with the 10 pick was actually done by my opponent, our resident draft expert. But after taking a in-depth look at Waiters and Rivers independently, the only thing I can think is that Michael has overlooked just how good Waiters can be, and is overly optimistic about how Rivers will develop. It’s not that I don’t think Rivers will be solid, it’s just that Waiters already is, and will continue to be, the better player. As one GM said, “There are really only two potential superstars in this draft. One is a sure thing — freshman Anthony Davis. The other one is Waiters.”

The sixth man out of Syracuse not only leads Rivers in just about every meaningful statistical category, he’s already proven that he’s more than capable of dealing with adversity, that he’s willing and able to embrace the sixth man role, and that he can create turnovers at a high level while holding his man to a low shooting percentage.


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